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Factbox: European guidelines on carrying computers on airplanes

(Reuters) - Placing laptops and computer tablets in the cargo hold is more complicated than air passengers or crew might expect, under new safety guidelines released on Wednesday by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

EASA, which oversees safety in 32 countries, has raised concerns over fire risks in the cargo hold after the United States and Britain banned electronic devices such as computers and iPads from the cabin on some flights due to security fears.

In a safety bulletin on Wednesday, it outlined a number of extra safety precautions for passengers and airlines to pay attention to when complying with the cabin electronics ban.

WHAT IS EASA?

EASA is the European Union agency responsible for regulating aviation in 32 European countries including, four outside the EU. Some but not all of its standards are compulsory. Its latest guidance on the carriage of computers is just a recommendation.

POWER OFF

* Computer devices packed in checked baggage "have to be completely switched off and effectively protected from accidental activation," EASA says.

* To ensure that the devices do not turn by mistake, passengers must not only switch them off, but ensure that any applications, alarms or settings that might accidentally awaken the machines during flight are disabled or deactivated.

PACKAGING

* Computers should be protected from damage with "suitable packaging or casing" or placed in a rigid bag protected by adequate cushioning, which could include clothing, EASA says.

WORKAROUND WARNING

* Gulf airlines have announced workarounds allowing premium passengers to keep their devices right up to the boarding gate, and then to hand them over so that they can be stowed in the hold alongside checked luggage.

* But EASA is concerned that this should not allow too many laptops to be stored together - a concentration of lithium-powered devices that raises the prospect of similar fire hazards to cargo shipments, which are subject to special controls.

* EASA therefore lays down guidelines that could increase the amount of time it takes to store and retrieve the devices. Cabin crew must not simply collect them and put them all in one place. They must be "dispersed" in the hold and should not be in one container. They should also be kept away from other dangerous goods.

SPARE BATTERIES

* EASA also issues a reminder to airlines that the carriage of spare batteries, power banks and e-cigarettes are forbidden inside checked baggage under global aviation rules.

(Compiled by Tim Hepher, editing by G Crosse)